Russia's accession to the WTO this Wednesday marks the successful end of a long and tortuous road of negotiations. Washington played an important role in paving the way, in the end game helping to remove the final hurdle by pressing Georgia to acquiesce to Russian membership despite the continuing acrimony between Tblisi and Moscow. Russia's admission to the WTO should thus mark a significant advance in U.S.-Russian relations – a major step forward in the so-called "reset."
But the opposite is true. Relations between Washington and Moscow have been particularly strained of late, with the Obama administration justifiably angry over the Kremlin's intransigent alignment with a Syrian regime using brute force against its own people. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has yet to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik restrictions – economic sanctions put in place in the 1970s intended to pressure the Soviet Union to allow emigration of its Jews.
Congress is also considering legislation which would link normal trade relations with Russia to the country's readiness to improve its record on human rights. The so-called Magnitsky Bill and related proposals envisage the public disclosure of a blacklist of human rights violators and the imposition of a visa ban on such individuals. Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian whistleblower who was imprisoned and then died while under policy custody in 2009.